It’s being widely reported that White House economic adviser Gene Sperling contradicted Obama’s jobs message today when he told reporters that Obama would sign into law any portions of the American Jobs Act that House Republicans pass.
Sperling’s assertions do suggest that the White House doesn’t have its messaging ducks in a row, and will give opponents ammo to argue that the White House has flip-flopped on its vow to push for the full American Jobs Act. But I’m not sure they have all that much substantive significance.
Sam Stein has the Sperling quotes in question:
“I think what the president said was, if Congress chose to pass a portion of the American Jobs Act, he would just keep coming back and pushing and pushing to pass all of the measures because we think each element is critical to the type of job growth and economic momentum this recovery needs,” said Sperling.
Sperling did note that the administration’s primary “push is to pass the American Jobs Act in its entirety as a single bill” but that if portions of the American Jobs Act were passed alone, the president’s view “would be that that was partial progress and that he was going to come back and fight and fight and fight to get the other components through.”
“Our strong preference is to do it as a single bill, but that ultimately goal is to get those measures past,” he said. “And I think, again, the President spoke yesterday and said if he was presented with parts of his plan his instinct would be not to reject things he favored but to come back and keep fight and fighting to get the entire program.”
Folks are arguing that this contradicts David Axelrod’s vow earlier today that Obama and his team do not see the jobs bill as an “a la carte menu.” I think this was an unfortunate quote from Sperling — rather than speculating on what Obama might do if House GOPers pass parts of the bill, he could have refused to speculate and reiterated nothing more than the White House’s desire to see the full bill passed. There’s no need to muddy the message about what you’re willing to accept.
That said, I’m reluctant to draw any broad substantive conclusions from what Sperling said, and it doesn’t look to me like a direct contradiction of Axelrod’s quotes from this morning. Sperling seemed to be saying that Obama will still push hard for the full bill’s passage, but if the House GOP passes parts of it — something the White House has no control over — Obama wouldn’t turn them down. Why would Obama vow not to accept parts of his own bill when he says they would create jobs? There’s a difference between saying what Sperling said and saying Obama is willing to compromise on a smaller package and walk away. Sperling did not say the latter. He said Obama would go back and hammer the GOP for passage of the rest of the bill. It’s unclear whether getting parts passed and then continuing the fight would trade away any leverage, given that all of the bill’s proposals have public support.
Sperling’s quotes seem more like a recognition of the current political reality than anything else. No one ever thought the House GOP would pass the entire bill to begin with. What really matters over the long haul is: 1) How aggressive a campaign Obama wages for full passage; 2) what Obama ends up in the way of jobs policy in the end; and 3) what Dems give up on the deficit “supercommittee.” It’s very possible we’ll all be disappointed by the overall outcome. But I’m not sure Sperling’s quotes necessarily signal anything definitive about where this is headed.
UPDATE: In fairness to Sperling, it’s not his fault that what he said today seemed to jar with Axelrod's quotes from this morning. Sperling was echoing what the President himself said yesterday about signing parts of the bill if the House GOP passes them, a message that was also voiced by White House press secretary Jay Carney today.